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Exploring Qualitative Research Software

July 8, 2016

Qualitative research methods were traditionally associated with social scientists working with non-numeric, descriptive data. Common methods for collecting qualitative data include unstructured interviews, open-ended surveys, focus groups, or ethnographies.

A word cloud for the word pain, includes other words like chronic, patients, treatment, opioid

However, qualitative research is increasingly used across disciplines to support results from quantitative analysis. The integration of quantitative and qualitative data and methodology within a single project is called mixed-methods research. This form of research potentially provides richer, more nuanced output but can be complicated to design.

Drexel librarians have been exploring the research process in several ways, including the use of software for qualitative and mixed methods research. Qualitative research software is designed to help you manage and analyze descriptive data which may require coding for analysis. Two popular tools for processing qualitative data are Atlas TI and NVivo.

Literature review analysis is a lesser known but powerful application in NVivo. Articles and other resources can be imported from bibliographic citation tools like Endnote or Zotero and analyzed for content. For example, a query on the most common 100 words across the literature review and the use of those words in context can identify themes for further exploration. Searches can be conducted for phrases of interest across the articles in the literature review to prioritize their importance. Simple charts that view article attributes can highlight gaps in journal or year coverage.

Just as data from focus groups, unstructured interviews and other qualitative data resources can be coded for themes, researchers can also code literature review content as a data source. Attributes from these articles can be added to matrices to run queries across your literature review and other sources of data.

Research software is just one tool for exploring the content of your literature review. For information about conducting literature reviews and analyzing their content, contact your liaison librarian.


Image shows is a word frequency analysis of the top 100 words across 67 articles in a literature review on opioid abuse.

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